In A Queer History of the Ballet (2007), Peter Stoneley charts out preliminary studies into the historically queer aspects of nineteenth and twentieth century ballet traditions. Stoneley strategically chooses his time periods and subjects to simultaneously tease out and excavate the de-stabilizing, radical, and queer aspects of his studies, rather than provide a comprehensive and wide-sweeping account.
I found Stoneley’s most interesting writings to be his inquiries into the figure of the fairy, Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe and the emergence of queer modernity, the queer usage of the prima ballerina, and his reading of Swan Lake.
One of the most interesting aspects of Stoneley’s research is the way in which he sets up Frederick Ashton’s creation of Margot Fonteyn. Ashton’s transformative experience of seeing the legendary Pavlova dance in his youth is correlated to his work with Margot Fonteyn. Fonteyn became an international ballet star in large part to Ashton’s choreography and coaching which was drawn from and fueled by his infatuated memories of Pavlova and the idea of her hyper-femininity. The dancing ballerina is not a “woman”, but an abstraction of femininity that has been pressed through the sieve of an enraptured man. Stoneley explores this queer relationship quite fully and opens up an important area of scholarship.
Stoneley uses just enough theorists (the usual suspects: Butler, Bersani, Edelman, Foucault, Mulvey, Sedgwick) to bring an academic heft to his writing, without drowning in it. I found it and incredibly enjoyable and immensely interesting read.